Thursday, February 28, 2019


A lot is being said about Smollett, a handsome and mostly obscure actor who is supposed to have staged a fake hate crime attack on himself. The sympathy turned into incredulity once the hoax was laid bare by the Chicago police. 

Actually this faux-Dreyfus affair cannot be relegated to some Page Six sordid tabloid category. It says a lot about the mood in 2019 America. The incident uncovered the paranoia of some and the sickening glee of others. The story in itself has no real heroes or villains, but for a mediocre actor and clueless acolytes. The socio/political minefield deserves a more sophisticated scrutiny. In the current polarized climate, individuals start to enact upon their own "fabrications". They end up losing ownership once the "news" gets out. The liberal side in this case is left with a hangover, while the right goes into overdrive, spreading Fox News-types of aberrations.

Today, the subtitle steals the story. All elements are manipulated to marginalize the real problems. This technique is also applied to the Michael Cohen hearings wherein the original sins from Trump get a free-pass from the Republicans, who prefer to kill the (flawed) messenger rather than having to endure the real news he might bring. In Trump and God they trust.  Get ready for is just the beginning!

Unfortunately, the structural damage in America has free reign. The inequalities grow, the foreign policy mistakes multiply and this administration dumps acid rain on all that stands in the way of its well planned takeover. Poor pathetic Jussie Smollett is actually not unlike Michael Cohen. Both were gullible and overestimated their cleverness. Both are now confronted with a mess, which they co-own. 

Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who presided over the Michael Cohen hearings shows that there still remains moral class and decency even in these present dark ages. The Republican attack dog, Jim Jordan, should apply for a Gestapo part in Inglorious Bastards Part II.


Trump doesn't know who Talleyrand is. Neither does his crew of losers. Otherwise they might have followed up on the great diplomat's warning "Pas top de zele!".

In his haste to follow-up on his one-sided infatuation with Kim  Jong-un he chose again to count on his personal charm (!) rather than on preparedness. Obviously he wants to see the North Korean leader as a normalized interlocutor, towards whom he might actually feel a genuine empathy.

As usual he will try to spin this diplomatic flop as a victory and present himself as a strong leader rather than facing the truth of a snub. After having praised his interlocutor to the sky, absolving him of all evil, he is left with nothing to show for but the deafening sarcasm heard in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing. Normally the blueprint of a communique or agreement is ready before such a meeting starts but here we have, yet again, the amateurs deciding to steal the show, with an outcome that could have been expected.

This administration chooses not to raise difficult questions, except with allies. One should not expect that Trump's son-in- law may have questioned MBS about Saudi travails or other embarrassing issues. Trump takes Russians and North Koreans at their is the rule of the White House game. To mention human rights is considered gauche. To be critical of Netanyahu's integrity is taboo since the president's "base" wants to barbecue in Jerusalem, till the savior lands...

For a former career diplomat all this is hard to swallow. The American pebble in the water originates currents which muddle other issues. If "the better part of valor is discretion" the supply thereof is running low.

Saturday, February 23, 2019


The Mueller report might be finished next month. This will not be the end of the story by the way since several courts are currently in overdrive, following leads and inquests linked to Trump & Co.

Some are of the opinion that Mueller will come out with an unambiguous settlement regarding the president's collusion with Russia. Such an outcome, although desirable and warranted, appears to be doubtful. One can expect the special prosecutor to make an inventory of certified dubious and nefarious facts but he might not go into the proven veracity of coherent strategy or intent. There is a difference between murder and manslaughter after all. The facts will be pointing in the direction of collusion but the sum of the various misdemeanors, lies and murky deals will certainly wound Trump but spare him at the end. The attorney general might also decide what can be made public or not and gag orders might be considered to shield Trump & Co from the expected unsavory findings. 

The president is always a move ahead of his opponents. The Democrats are busy making fools of themselves, while the Republicans are just Trump's private kennel. They occasionally bark but never bite. He made everything subservient to his own needs. He goes to Vietnam for distraction,  not really for solving the Korean peninsula's problems, which require depth and historical reference. Being devoid of both, he will again prefer to meet face-to-face, without any vade mecum other than his "Art of the deal" (god forbid).  Remember Helsinki, Singapore?

In reality he is already running for his re-election, which is under the current conditions a done deal, unfortunately. In two years he has turned the American myth upside down and transformed the beacon of (imperfect but formidable) democracy into a nightmare which keeps the world on edge. Truth is no longer a gold standard currency. It has become an induced coma. The great economists of yesterday are being executed by a platoon of short-term profiteers. Wars will be fought not for a cause, not because of a lie but just for expediency. If Hamilton created enlightened capitalism; the Trump administration follows a crypto capitalism fantasy,  reviving the United Fruit banana strategy from former days, both internally and in external affairs.

One should hope for some form of justice or resigned closure, but all indications point in the direction of more unsettling storms. The turmoil is not just an American one. The Made-in- USA shock therapy is creating a global tsunami. Some observers who tend to look at America as a country in decline had better look in their own backyard, which is starting to shift under their feet as a result of the doings of this American version of George III.

Monday, February 18, 2019


David Brooks is a sophisticated commentator of the American res publica. Given his often accurate insight and unsparing observations one wonders how he can still call himself a Republican. True, the GOP of former days had in its code of manners a certain amount of excellence, although often unevenly shared and often ignored. Still he represents a moral and enlightened alternative to the current gutter slang which has taken hold of the ruling discourse of this administration.

Brooks and others should follow the lead of French intellectuals who do not shun visibility or controversy and who play a major role in shaping the ying and the yang of the debates regarding society. To follow up on this Chinese reference, it might be appropriate to return to Brooks' last editorial in the New York Times "How China brings us together."  He suggests that China is a threat to the United States and the world order and that Americans should come together upon the realization of this ominous danger.

He mentions, rightly so, China's murky record regarding intellectual property and its many transgressions in areas that are too numerous to mention:  democracy, human rights, South China Sea, trade...and one can go on. He also mentions that the Chinese government has nevertheless the highest level of social trust worldwide, after the Netherlands!  Hence there must still be something laudable in Xi Jinping's claim for China's place in the modern world.

Brooks' premise is wrong. The menace for the world order is not China but Trump's America. Bluff, menace, push, trade wars are the province of the mostly immature and uninformed. The world is fed up with the vulgar, corrupt trickle down lies and turns against the United States. Europe, the dispensable ally now, might end up accommodating the Russian bear (for energy) and the Chinese dragon (out of infatuation) rather than being lectured by gross amateurs.  

China's policies in Xinjang or Gansu are frankly racist, almost Trumpish. The Tibet brutal "assimilation" is still going on. The intellectual debate in China is mostly "underground". On the other hand one should not underestimate the chauvinistic DNA in the Han psyche. Nor should one forget the Chinese resentment against the West which is stronger than any form of corrective introspection. Beijing does take its historical memory and recuperation seriously. When the US condemns (rightly so) the intellectual theft which is rampant, the Chinese never fail to point at the US record of malpractice: the looting after World War II of (i.a.) Germany's know-how and hijacking of its engineers and scientists, be them guilty of Nazi sympathies or not. China's role in South America and Africa today might be ambiguous but it does fare better than most Western incursions in previous times.

China is a formidable competitor, unhindered by democratic excess (as seen lately in the aborted NYC Amazon deal). The real enemy however is within America's walls. Trump roams the world alleys like Godzilla. The clear-eyed thinkers like Brooks, Nye, Nasr had better lay the blame where it belongs. They should start to mobilize a majority of Americans who are tired of being deprived of values and dignity. The political class--Democrats included--looks too puerile to be taken seriously for now. Maybe some might mature but meanwhile the chorus of wise men and women has to take the lead in a country which is at risk. Only an American revival can save others, Europe in the first place, from the fallacy of ennui. Brooks mentions the need for reform and repair against China.  He is right to prescribe the prescription, he is wrong in targeting China.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019


One has become familiar with the arcane goings-on in Westminster, when the Speaker tries to control the goings on in the Commons. The world looks likewise to be in need of a speaker before it becomes unmanageable. The role of "great normalizer" did belong to the United States, at times suffered rather than welcomed. Probably the Iraq war hastened the demise of the Pax Americana. Trump is only the mad undertaker of this "Rump shipwreck".

In this void, Russia might come close to overreaching. China is  trying to add seduction to fact, by spinning a Disney-like fantasy on its past glory days in art and culture.

The rest of the world adopts a "wait-and-see" attitude. Self- interest has replaced the, by now defunct, adhesion to a set of values.

What about Europe? Every day brings another indication of how bad things are becoming. The almost unsustainable backlash from Brexit has created a political anti-cyclone  wherein the negative consequences match the disastrous premises. Former P.M. David Cameron was the perfect example of a tone-deaf arrogant mindset, lost in a depasse form of hubris. His referendum gamble boomeranged in  merciless ways. The "deal or no deal" outcome is becoming the indifferent interface of a poisonous coin. There remains a monarchy which boosts the morale and tries to distract from the soap opera travails which besiege it. This downward spiral does not spare other "cousins", in Belgium and elsewhere, who compensate for their irrelevance by being a lifeline for tabloids. Prince Philip, King Lear in the driving seat, is the perfect image of England in a ditch.

The American Secretary of State has chosen to cajole Trump's Europe (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) and to ignore the free- traders lot, which is in disfavor with his mad patron. That Italy and France are on the Mona Lisa warpath shows how immune to ridicule European countries have become. Brussels is more than ever a booby-trapped place before the upcoming European elections and the makings of a new Commission, which are even more backroom-like than the Conclave. One should hope that there will be more room for ambition than for gerrymandering, but the Macron/Merkel axis feels singularly weakened, besieged by a mostly reactionary revenge camp (not unlike Trump's "base").

The European situation is actually dangerous because it lacks any form of larger unifying drama. It looks more like a remake of a Cromwell episode with no Restoration end in view. A Neo- "puritanical" overhaul wants to get rid of the former pillars of the European design: free trade, free circulation of goods , ideas and persons, pluralism. This reaction could have been expected, given that people were more often talked "at" than "with". Former priorities are no longer in favor, because their making was shared with too few and their effect was imposed was on too many. Europe must return to a form of shared ambition if it wants to renew the marriage vows that hold it together, albeit in a precarious union. The post-Brexit slimmer EU will have to reopen the hearts and minds if it wants to remain relevant, other than in too many unpopular regulations.

The ideas of Eric Zemmour in France are taking hold, not because he is that widely read out of France, but because he has the knack of dressing prejudice up in fashionable current terms which make up for trans-border ennui. Trump's wall talk is too primitive to become "trendy". Count on the French (de Gobineau, Drieu La Rochelle, Celine, Houellebecq) to make the unpleasant wearable. Mine de rien they might, by doing so, achieve the quasi-impossible:  making Steve Bannon salon material!

Thursday, February 7, 2019


The president delivered his traditional State of the Union last Tuesday. As usual he got the undignified reception which Congress reserves for presidents from either side. Democracy is too seldom a path to restraint. Given Trump's pathological weaponizing of truth and facts, his histrionics fell mostly on deaf or blaze ears.

The American political class looks often like a group of escapees suffering from a concussion disorder. The cabinet appears to be demented, mandated to slaughter what they are supposed to bolster. The Republicans continue to follow their Hamelin pied-piper for now, while the Democrats try to carpet- bomb the Trump "Mafiosi" who are in control of most levels of the state apparatus. Actually, this unfit president looks more like a willing tool of larger interests than as a leader with composure and vision. As much as the judiciary has been taken over by the Federalist Society, other branches of the government are hijacked and "rerouted" for the benefit of other interests. The president acts Manchurian both in internal and external affairs. His last "coup" regarding the World Bank is again a remake of the well known tactic wherein the undertaker takes over from the healer. Hence, climate gets worse, civil liberties are rolled back. Energy wins over any other consideration and the "pro-life" lobby dwarfs even the Vatican's "canons". Putin is often accused of being Trump's whisperer. For sure he certainly must rejoice in having a corrupt fool in Washington but under the current circumstances the rule of the nationalistic/xenophobic lobby in the United States might outlive the current occupant of the White House. Something structural has changed in America and a return to normal will be hard to come by because of this Kabuki-like coup. There is more going on than what occupies and distracts the mind.

Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, is a formidable opponent. She has the wit, the guts and the instinct. However, she will have a hard time controlling a caucus where talent is abundant but wherein tactical skills might be in short supply. There are too many claimants for a mantle which is too thin.

In the short-term Trump will meet his North Korean accomplice (for now) in (communist) Vietnam. This pile of tautologies should send shivers in the Republican ranks, who usually shriek just in hearing the softer version: "socialism". They will choose for now to swallow yet another pill. Kim Jong-un will get a pardon, while Cuba, Iran and Venezuela will continue on their path to their seasons in hell. Other surprises will follow given the Pompeo/Bolton high bad cholesterol foreign policy derangements. Often it appears that those pompous troglodytes do not want to grasp the relative insignificance of the roles they play, given the complexity of the world beyond their moral and intellectual reach.

The Versailles Syndrome lives. Some continue to unilaterally decide outcomes. While, at the onset, allies were needed, pressured, consulted, the whim to get out now looms larger than the imperative to act in concert with the former others. This America has lost any ambition for coherence or strategy. It has occasional partners in some form of "online dating" but finds itself in less than two years without friends and suitors. The "onion" speech only laid bare, layer after layer, that there is no there there.